ENGO Colonial Activism that Perpetuates Indigenous Poverty
June 5, 2019 3:44 AM   Subscribe

A traditional practise of the Inuit is to never waste the food or materials provided by the animals they bring home.

There is a serious problem with how some organizations within the nonprofit sector have unethically attained financial stability. This article focuses on Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGO) that have raised or continue to raise money off anti-seal hunting campaigns, because they have contributed to the current state of destitution a majority of Inuit people face in their homelands. The anti-seal hunting campaigns are perpetuating poverty; to be more specific, colonial enforced poverty.

posted by poffin boffin (9 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
I sometimes feel like capitalism is one of our greatest problems as expressed in the callousness we express in our apathy to fixing poverty. We say we want justice and fairness but we rarely do anything to fix the subsystems that enforce endemic poverty for communities we are ourselves not party to.
posted by kalessin at 4:44 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]


From the article -

Personally, I don’t know how they can justify their job security at the expense of an entire group of people. I do not know how they can sleep at night knowing they’ve exploited the Inuit and subjected them to a socioeconomic crisis they created, which leads to addiction, violence, suicide, poverty, and cultural erasure. Perhaps it’s because colonizers have selective short memories or they have some deep-rooted cognitive dissonance.

Actually, my hunch is that the ENGOs most guilty of this kind of behavior just plumb don't care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Actually, my hunch is that the ENGOs most guilty of this kind of behavior just plumb don't care.

I don't think it is that they know and understand, and don't care - I don't think they really understand what it's meant for Inuit communities, or have justified it to themselves by thinking, "oh, they can move on to another economic activity", or "what I'm doing is really raising money for the rainforest". It's easy to be in a bubble and not understand - though, with the increasing awareness and essays like this, I would hope that this bubble would be burst.

This situation is more cut-and-dry than others where the needs of indigenous communities conflict with environmental conservatism, as there is no environmental justification for opposing the seal hunt. There are other situations which are even more complicated, like the conflict between farmers and elephants in East Africa. Elephants really are endangered - and they really are a threat to the livelihoods of the people who live there. Balancing the human and environmental concerns is something that anyone working in environmental issues should be trying to do. There are always people involved. But it's easier to ignore that when those people aren't people "like us".
posted by jb at 10:54 AM on June 5 [7 favorites]


"I sometimes feel like capitalism is one of our greatest problems as expressed in the callousness we express in our apathy to fixing poverty. We say we want justice and fairness but we rarely do anything to fix the subsystems that enforce endemic poverty for communities we are ourselves not party to."
Wait, what?

Removing these artificial barriers that are preventing Inuit peoples from participating in the global capitalist economy, and critiquing the colonialist mindset that convinced these fuckers that they had some kind of right to even consider putting them up, is kind of the whole thesis of the article. It pretty explicity discusses how, before these bans, Inuit seal hunters were harnessing the global capitalist engine to create the kinds of prosperity, agency, and health their southern neighbors already enjoyed. Those neighbors then took that prosperity away, using a model for organizing human effort that is very much both an alternative to the capitalist model and in this case incredibly fucking racist.

Maybe the mindset that would allow you to feel ok about taking possession of this powerful essay, and using it to attack the very thing that it holds up as having once brought economic justice to this community, is at the core of exactly what it is powerfully critiquing in the first place? Maybe privileged people with more pity than sense feeling like they have the ability, or any right, to take directive agency in fixing the subsystems that enforce endemic poverty for communities we are ourselves not party to is a part of exactly the problem here? Maybe systemically oppressed peoples have no need for anti-capitalist platitutes or appeals to dispair any more than they need the condesention and activism of these ENGOs? As the essay pretty powerfully demonstrates, capitalism and the power that comes from having goods or services that people want can often bring so much more justice and fairness than any concievable amount of concerned caring of privileged people with no clue.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:17 AM on June 5 [5 favorites]


It seems like this is getting a bit fighty but I also feel like this is a strong, and ungenerous interpretation of my words.

I mean that if we had another set of priorities set about by post capitalism and an economy of plenty in general instead of a collection of plutocracies and oligarchies where we took care of each other, instead of blaming poverty on people's "merit" or lack thereof, currently poor and marginalized folks might have more enjoyable lives and might be able to share their creations and ways of living in a far less biased way.

As a bonus we wouldn't have the wolf of poverty and homelessness constantly at our heels until we exploit enough other people to become rich.

Also please consider that I am a white passing person of color, queer, trans, non-binary. I have plentiful experience being colonized and exploited (politically, socially, communally, individually) and am speaking about this from this perspective.
posted by kalessin at 11:32 AM on June 5


The author of the linked essay has provided us with a pretty searing critique of pretty much exactly this kind of outside perspective, and it kind of feels like you are still talking over them rather than engaging with their ideas.

This is a pretty clear example of how systems that were designed with the intention of taking care each other turned out much much worse than how simply letting people take care of themselves would have worked out. According to the author, allowing Inuit seal hunters to commercially exploit demand for seal products, and allowing people with a desire for seal products to exploit their labor, brought economic and social justice. While on the other hand the best and most allegedly noble wishes of others brought crushing poverty, hideous injustice, and death.

Do you think they are wrong in some way?
posted by Blasdelb at 12:44 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


As the essay pretty powerfully demonstrates, capitalism and the power that comes from having goods or services that people want can often bring so much more justice and fairness than any concievable amount of concerned caring of privileged people with no clue.

True. This isn't necessarily a problem of capitalism, so much as our culture of spectacle and its hypocritical values. In the industrial world, nobody over a certain age can forget the graphic ads showing baby seals being clubbed to death. Whereas Inuit hunters (who never kill juveniles on principle) would argue that if they don't hunt the seals, the seals will be offended and go away.

Either way, the narratives around seal hunting are so badly distorted, that the market for the end product has dwindled to the point of no return. It barely matters that the Inuit have dispensations allowing them to hunt and trade, because as this article points out, the supply chain would be the same:
The distinction between subsistence and commercial is tricky, deceptive and dishonest. It implies that subsistence sealers live in a bubble, and they are not in any way connected to the modern market economy, which of course they are. The fact that seal hunters in Greenland and Nunavut can still put their products on the European market because of the exemption completely negates the interlinkages between the Inuit seal hunts and the non-Inuit seal hunts. The trade pathways are exactly the same, and since there is no labelling system in place for Inuit and non-Inuit or subsistence and non-subsistence hunting, they cannot even be distinguished.
It's worth investigating the incredibly complicated transition the Inuit have been forced to make, from thriving for thousands of years in one of the most hostile environments on the planet, to living in a wage economy which, to put it mildly, was not always respectful of their culture. All this in recent memory, and as much to do with the Cold War and the need for administrative control in the Arctic circle.

Also worth your time is a perusal of traditional Inuit clothing, mostly made of seals, and widely considered to be the most effective cold weather gear ever. I'm endlessly amazed by their seal gut parkas.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 12:50 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


I don't think it is that they know and understand, and don't care - I don't think they really understand what it's meant for Inuit communities, or have justified it to themselves by thinking, "oh, they can move on to another economic activity", or "what I'm doing is really raising money for the rainforest".

That's kind of what I meant by "they don't care". I'm not necessarily saying that they understand and don't care; they'd have to care about the lives of the Inuit in order to make an attempt at understanding in the first place, to my mind. And they can't even be arsed to try to understand, precisely because they don't care.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Thank you for sharing this, poffin boffin.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:30 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


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